About Scott Kim
My name is Scott Kim and I am the Chef and Owner of Skimmer’s Panini Grill in Mission Viejo. I didn’t grow up cooking, I’m not from a restaurant dynasty family, and my grandmothers, neither of whom were Italian and neither of whom were teaching me at 3 how to make pasta by hand.
My mother did cook every night for all of us growing up, two sisters and a brother and my Dad, sort of an Asian fusion (back then we called it oriental) with American Dishes but by way of Hawaii where she grew up. I don’t think her mother, my grandmother, was a very good cook… although I have very vivid childhood memories of summers spent in Hawaii, eating poi, lau-lau, plate lunch (I love plate lunch!) and boiling lobsters that my grandfather had just caught in his net that morning. My grandmother also made something she called Chicken Hekka, kinda a filipino chicken adobo. And of course Hawaii was where I developed my life-long love for Shave Ice! (Strawberry, Lime or Watermelon are my usual picks!)
Anyway back to my mothers’ dinners. She made things like Beef Stew, Beef Curry, Sweet Sour Spareribs (no doubt inspired from her own love of plate lunch), Beef with Tofu, Oxtail Seaweed Soup (THE BEST!), Korean Kalbi and Bulgogi, and oven grilled steaks, spaghetti Sauce with Ground beef, … and all of these delicious dishes… always served with rice. Always rice. She did have a repertoire of casseroles: elbow macaroni in a tomato type sauce with ground beef and various veggies, baked with cheese, tuna in a béchamel sauce (of course none of us including my mother, knew it was a béchamel sauce) served over egg noodles, her version of sushi, fried Spam, scrambled eggs with sesame oil and dill pickles which was placed on stovetop toasted nori and rice right out of the rice cooker. This was one one of my staple meals in college. I would make it for my roommates, who loved em!
Our refrigerator and cupboards growing up had an interesting mix of items, Kim Chee, Umeboshi (japanese pickled plum), pickled daikon, dill pickles, BEST FOODS mayo (ALWAYS), Yellow Mustard, Deli, spicy or stone ground mustard, A-1 Steak Sauce (which was a favorite of my Dad’s and still loved by my brother and I today!), Kochujiang (sp? Korean spicy pepper paste), a jar of pickled pigs feet, Vienna Sausages, Spam, Top Ramen, Dashi Soup Base Packets, Mochiko rice flour, Girard’s Italian Dressing, sometimes for salad we would have mayo and ketchup mixed together for the dressing and it usually was a job for one of us kids. Cans: Pork n Beans, green beans, creamed corn, sweet corn and tuna fish, soy sauce (always kikomman), sesame oil, Tabasco Sauce and Folger’s Coffee. And several times a year we would all pitch in and make Mandoo, Korean meat dumplings in a chicken broth. The filling was a mixture of ground beef, ground pork, blanched bean sprouts, garlic, kim-chee, tofu, soy sauce and sesame oil. We hand stuffed those square won ton skins folding and sealing each by hand. Although I do have memories of my sister making and unleavened dumpling dough by hand, hand rolled and hand cut. I remember thinking the hand made dough was too much work for something that I could eat dozens of in a matter of minutes. Once all the rolling and stuffing and sealing was complete they were boiled on water and then put out on platters. In the meantime a whole chicken was boiled to make chicken soup and the boiled meat was shredded and served on top. I haven’t made Mandoo in many years! Maybe this weekend! Show my own kids how it’s done!
Growing up it was a real treat to have potatoes of any kind. I don’t think that my father cared for potatoes too much. I remember I had dinner at a friends house when I was probably 7 or 8 and they had baked potatoes and a plate of sliced white bread and butter on the table that they ate with dinner…I remember thinking that it was so strange… where was the rice? When I went away to college eating in the dorm cafeteria really opened my eyes to the glory of the potato! Potatoes at every meal! Hash browns, Cottage fries, homestead potatoes, french fries, mashed, boiled, gratineed, soufflé potatoes, baked…. I mean I knew about potatoes and I had eaten them growing up, but to have so many choices at each meal was really a marvel!
And while at college, (UC Riverside, if you’re interested) I met a guy by the name of Bob Hoyle. He was a career institutional food service man and was one of the most influential people of my life and career. Bob was the Food Service Manager in The Commons on campus where I had taken a job, well I should say I needed a job. When I was in high school my father always told me to just get good grades and he would pay for me to go to college. Well in the second semester of my Freshman year at Riverside my parents separated and the monthly checks stopped appearing in my little mailbox. So I went from a free ride to paying for it all myself. Today with my own oldest son in his second year of college, I remember in 1981 quarterly tuition was $271.00. Those days are long gone! Anyway now having to pay my way I began working in the Pub, a small food service outlet on campus. It was 1981 and minimum wage was $3.35 per hour ( those days are long gone too!) and they were paying me $4.63 per hour! So I worked the grill flipping burgers and making sandwiches and ended up working with Bob because he was starting a Catering Department for on campus events. I had found my calling. Bob was such an inspiration and had so much experience to share. At the end of 2 years together we had built a successful, respected catering service and I had learned how to book, sell, plan, set up serve, break down and run a catered event. Bob even taught me to do ice carving. I was responsible for planning and running a weekly themed buffet for the students, with themed foods, decorations and a themed ice carving… I remember one time Bob ordered a block of green ice and I was suppose to make a shamrock. I worked on it for a long time and it came out all out of proportion and then one of the shamrock’s leaves broke off… it was a disaster. But Bob put it out on the St. Pat’s buffet and said we’ll tell everyone it was made by a drunk leprechaun!
During college I also worked for a small family run restaurant whose menu was created by a famous southwest chef. So it was a real restaurant in the culinary sense but the family didn’t know how to run a restaurant. I learned a lot about cooking and what not to do operating a restaurant and also found the inspiration to go to cooking school. The family’s son who was suppose to be the kitchen manager, was NEVER there. One day he left a catalog for Culinary Institute of America in New York on the desk in the office. I looked through it and realized that this was what I wanted to do. They had a class about everything that I wanted to learn about. At this time I received my degree in Psychology and was planning to get my teaching credential. But cooking school replaced that…I was on my way to New York! I was accepted but put on a waiting list so I returned home to my Mother’s house in Fremont in Northern California and spent a school year substitute teaching. I really enjoyed it but was still determined to go to cooking school. So with college student loans, I borrowed and begged more to go to the CIA!
The Culinary Institute of America is in one of the most beautiful locations in the country. An old monastery school, I think, set right on the Hudson River. It was an experience of a lifetime. I really excelled at my studies, taking advantage of all the school had to offer. I spent countless hours in the multi-tiered library, a library of cookbooks! I’m an avid cookbook collector today probably because of those wonderful library hours spent back then. I graduated at the top of my class, received the Keating Award (most likely to succeed) and also was a Les Amis de Escoffier Society Scholarship Award Recipient. The scholarship awards ceremony was an unbelievable Black Tie, five course dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan! The whole 9 yards, with nuts and chocolates served after coffee service!
After graduating from CIA in 1988 I applied to some restaurants in Manhattan but I couldn’t really afford to live there, let alone make a living there. I got recruited to do a hotel opening in Atlanta for Hotel Intercontinental who were interviewing on campus. I was offered Asst Room Service Manager…not cooking, but it was a paying job and I’d never been to the South! Well I graduated in May of 1988 and the Atlanta job didn’t begin until October so I took another job with Harrahs Lake Tahoe as a restaurant manager in the Summit Coffee House, their 3 meal a day restaurant. It was a machine! One saturday we did 12,000 covers! Yes, you heard right, 12,000 covers! My job as a manager was either to expedite on the line or handle guest satisfaction/complaints on the floor… it was a big floor! We had something like 30 bussers and countless servers on a shift! Well if you were the manager on the floor your job was to check on guest satisfaction and if a guest had even the smallest complaint or comment, one of the 40 or so servers were to get you immediately so you could smooth things over with the guest. It was great experience in customer service training and handling guest complaints. I was there for 4 months, lived in a cabin at the base of Heavenly Ski Resort ( it was summer) with 7 other guys, some of whom I knew from high school who were up for the summer also. It was THE epic summer of my youth! We biked, rock climbed, hiked, one of my roommates had a boat, another a windsurfer and another a jet ski. I worked the swing shift, 3pm to 11pm and then spent the rest of the night and early morning chasing girls (mostly unsuccessfully), gambling (also mostly unsuccessfully), learning to shoot craps and sucking the marrow from the bones of life!
Following that unforgettable summer I took the position as Room Service Manager with Hotel-Intercontinetal Atlanta, which was a new hotel opening. Yeah… it was my first time in the South. Quite a different world from growing up in California. I lived and worked in Atlanta for a couple or years, through 2 management changes (Westin and Marriott), a lot of long hours and experienced managing a food service department in a town that had 2% unemployment. Meaning that a person could be working in one hotel in the morning, quit on the spot and be working in another hotel in uniform by that same afternoon. Lots of jobs and not enough qualified applicants.
Next it was back to California for a Restaurant Manager position with Four Seasons at The Biltmore is Santa Barbara. What an awesome property! The main restaurant has a glass ceiling that opens with a large patio that look out onto the ocean. It was fun working there but it was very expensive to live and in a short time I had another opportunity that would be one for those pivotal paradigm shifting events in my life that could only be appreciated later in life looking back.
In 1990 I had a day off from The Biltmore and I went to visit my college roommate who lived in Victorville. Tom, my old roommate had a friend, Frank who was working for a liquor and wine distributor. Frank thought I should come to work with him and felt I would be perfect. Little did I know how this would be the new direction of my career.
Through a long and sometimes aggravating interview process I was offered a position as a sales representative. Little did I know at the time that this offer was for a premium territory in Marina Del Rey and Venice in Los Angeles and also a member of the top sales team in the company. That company was Southern Wine and Spirits which was then and is even more so today the largest Wine and Spirits Distributor in the country.
In my first 2 month in my territory after completing my training I was Salesman of the month for both months and that year my sales team was Team of the Year! It was a very exciting time, plus I more than doubled my salary from the hotel business! Talk about a turning point!
I spent 2 years at Southern and then had an opportunity to work for one of the supplier to Southern as an Area Sales Manager with Jim Beam Brands! I spent almost 10 years with Jim Beam, developing into an expert in the production of all the different types of spirits and winemaking.
In 2000 I had an opportunity to go from managing a SOuthern California for Jim Beam to managing the Western Region for Mike’s Hard Lemonade, which was just being introduced to California and the West. Mikes’ was a fun experience but turned out to be more of the same politics and frustrations that plague large corporations.
So in 2003, feeling completely un-fulfilled by working in sales I got up the nerve to open my own restaurant….Skimmer’s Panini Grill! And the rest is panini sandwich history!
Here’s to the past 10 years of Skimmer’s…and to the next 10!
eScott Kim, Chef/Owner of Skimmer’s graduated at the top of his class from The Culinary Institute of America in New York. Scott is well versed in the preparation and execution of many diverse menus, creative California cuisine and trained in food and wine pairing. In 2007 Scott earned a Master of Cooking Degree from Il Instituto Superiore di Gastronomia in Jesi, Marche, Italy. It was a ten week long program in Traditional Regional Italian Cuisine, and taught completely in Italian. Scott’s not fluent in itlalian but he’s working on it!